Sunshine is being turned into energy and knowledge at The University of Queensland's (UQ) Gatton campus, where the state's largest solar array has been launched. The 3.275 MW Gatton Solar Research Facility comprises more than 37,000 thin-film PV panels from First Solar, which also managed the engineering and construction.
Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane opened the new research facility at an event attended by federal, state and local officials and national energy industry leaders. He said, "This facility will not only benefit the University in terms of its own electricity supply, but the knowledge coming from the research will enable the global community to be better equipped in addressing energy security needs.”
The Gatton project is part of research collaboration between UQ, the University of New South Wales, First Solar and AGL PV Solar Holdings Pty Ltd, an affiliate of AGL Ltd. The development is funded by a $40.7 million Federal Government Education Investment Fund program grant administered by the Department of Education.
"This infrastructure brings UQ's total solar generation capacity to more than 5 MW," said Professor Høj, UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor. "UQ made a significant step into solar power generation and research four years ago when it installed a 1.22 MW solar system across four rooftops at St Lucia. The Gatton system is almost three times bigger than the one at St Lucia, and takes the University's renewable energy research to greater heights.
First Solar Asia-Pacific Regional Manager Jack Curtis said the Gatton facility's advanced capability and research potential was unrivalled almost anywhere in the world. In addition, UQ Solar director Professor Paul Meredith said the facility would be a game-changer in renewables research.
The UQ Solar initiative, managed by UQ's Global Change Institute, seeks to better understand the cost efficiencies of solar technologies to improve the integration of solar energy into the electricity grid, paving the way for future large scale solar systems to be connected. For the first time in Australia, multiple PV mounting technologies including fixed-tilt, single-axis and dual-axis tracker technologies will be in operation side-by-side in the same field to inform electrical and economic performance.
Professor Meredith said the Gatton facility was an exemplar of how clean energy could integrate with agriculture and was a test bed for off-grid applications such as remote communities or mining settlements. The plant will also include battery storage to improve understanding of the value of short- and medium-term energy storage, its impact on the quality of power supply and any resulting economic benefits.
(Photo: The installation of the Gatton Solar Facility in UQ. Source: Global Change Institute)